Review: Orcs & Elves (NDS)

Imagine the classic games Eye of the Beholder and Wolfenstein 3D; mix them both together and now you have a very fascinating action RPG game with amazing old-school flavor. This game was developed by id Software, who also coincidentally made Doom and Wolfenstein which clearly inspired the 2D sprites in this game.

This game was not originally for the Nintendo DS. It was first released for cellular phones somewhere in 2006, and was remade for the DS and released on November 15 2007; the DS version included enhanced graphics and exclusive use of the DS touch screen and both screens; one could simply tap a few portions of the screen to cast spells or drink potions, and the bottom screen could be used to show a map while navigating in the top screen; the microphone is never used, and it's not a feature that I would care about anyways. That map is a lifesaver for navigating those long mazes; without it, I would have given up easily playing without even reaching the middle of the game. Also, to cast spells, the player needs to tap 4 different circles in the north, east, south, west directions in a pre-defined pattern; don't worry, it tells you which ones to tap, so you don't need to write anything down on a sheet of paper. To open certain types of doors, you need to remember the code, and it will be automatically recorded in a quest log for later use, leaving the player with more time to explore and level up.

The player controls an elf named Elli who wields a talking magical wand named Ellon; Ellon can give the player hints about certain dungeons, and be used as a weapon that inflicts magical damage to opponents from a distance; it can only be used so many times until it has to be recharged. As the player progresses through the game, upgrades such as stronger swords, crossbows, better potions, magical rings and armor upgrades will become available. The story behind the game is almost a 500 page essay and the player isn't forced to remember the storyline, which is awesome! All the player really needs to know is that the main character finds a magical wand, wants to get the legendary dragonscale armor and crawl through many dungeons, kill some monsters and level up!

The player can only turn in 90 degree angles, so you always face north, south, east or west. To attack, all that needs to be done is to either press the A button, or press tap the "use" button on the touch screen with a stylus; this doesn't necessarily mean that fighting is simple; at times, it can be crude, and force you to jump back a few spaces to launch that magic attack and drink some strength/defense potions to survive. Like turn-based table top games, each movement the player makes such as walking and attacking counts as a turn; in other words, the seconds that pass by during gameplay do not affect fighting and how monsters behave; so if you see a monster a few steps in front of you, it will not move until you move; this can be affected by certain player or enemy stats where the player can have more moves than the enemy or vice versa; a very interesting way to simulate way to simulate turn-based strategy, dating back to Eye of the Beholder and earlier. It lessened my panic times whenever I was low on health, and I can always take a few seconds to choose potions, and switch weapons.

Don't expect this to be Neverwinter Nights for the DS; it's completely different. The characters are 2D, very colorful, and obviously gave me a sense of nostalgia while playing this; you can even see the pixels (aka "jaggies"), which didn't bother me at all; it's not the best looking DS game and it's not the ugliest either; their use of a pseudo-3D look ensured that there would be no slowdowns whatsoever, and John Carmack's classic still holds strong to this day.

If there's one thing that I didn't like very much it would be some of the tedious monster/boss fights and the linearity; there are times where I'm being surrounded by more monsters than I can handle, and I die after I waste all of my potions to live a bit longer; there was a level where I could choose to free a prisoner from a dragon, and I thought if I freed it, the dragon would try to hurt me; I was under the impression that there was some non-linear elements here, but I was wrong, and I was forced to free him anyways, only to have him try to kill me later. After this, I realized that I have to keep going forward without stepping back to make sure that I didn't miss anything; the upgrades for weapons are fairly expensive, and I used potions more than weapons, so it took a while for me to get any upgrades. Eventually, I started to backtrack anyways, and just kill the rats and spider creatures to level up and gain extra health to be stronger; just like good old times.

A funny thing worth noting is that this game contains alcohol use in it; the player can collect kegs of ale, and when it is consumed, your strength is increased; however, you become dizzy and your accuracy lowers, so there is a drawback for using this method of fighting stronger; the camera even tilts and pans in small degrees randomly to add to that drunk sensation. Some Dwarves have important information about exits and will not say a word about it until you have a drink with them.

This is a great game for anyone who loved the Eye of the Beholder games, classic Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. It is obviously better than the cellular phone version; the "take your time" combat style, classic old-school feel, colorful imagery, automatic quest info logging and simple controls make this a game worth buying.

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